It is a strangly significant fact that the book which is unquestionably the great book of the year should be the work of a man who never wrote a novel until he was fifty. The practice of youthful novel writing has done as much as any other one thing to weaken and vitiate literature. The notion seems to have gone abroad that a man can write before he has lived; that he can project his personality before he has any personality to project. Literature is generally regarded as a craft which anyone who has a thorough classical education and a dictionary of synonyms can practice at will. The talent for writing is largely the talent for living, and is utterly independent of knowledge. The less craft and cult there is about literature the better. There is nothing more fatal than the habit so cultivated by young authors of seeing things in a "literary" way. There is only one way to see the world truly, and that is to see it in a human way. The scientist who sees the world as a collection of atoms and forces, the political economist who sees it as a set of powers and federations, sees falsely. They see facts, not truths. The only things which are really truths are those which in some degree affect all men. Atoms are not important; the world would be just as happy if we did not know of their existence. The ultimate truths are never seen through the reason, but through the imagination. The litterateur who reduces his work to a craft makes the fatal mistake of regarding success as the sum of his knowledge and cleverness, whereas in reality it is the result of his living.
The young writers who spend their time in making epigrams, who rack their brains for clever comparisons, who torture their tiny imaginations to find a new figure to fit the "golden leaves of autumn" or the "moaning of the surf" are all on the wrong track. It may be well enough to describe a daisy in an inimitable phrase, but daisies play such a small part in the real life of the world. Word artists have had their day of greatness and are rapidly on the decline. We want men who can paint with emotion, not with words. We haven't time for pastels in prose and still life; we want pictures of human men and women. We are not even satisfied with ideas; we want people. Even the great essayists are not read much now, because the Nineteenth century demands humanness. There are requisitions in all arts, and in literature there is one that is inexorable: An author must live, live deeply and richly and generously, live not only his own life, but all lives. He must have experiences that cannot be got out of a classical dictionary or even in polite society. He must know the world a good deal as God knows it, in all the pitiable depravity of its evil, in all the measureless sublimity of its good.
"Pauline Hall has one of the best balanced and at the same time individually clever organizations on the road. Her prima donna is pretty Jeanette St. Henry , formerly with De Wolf Hopper ; her baritone is James Aldrich Libby , who has had more songs written for him than any other light opera singer of today; her basso is William Broderick , her eccentric comedy woman is Kate Davis , the singer with four voices, and her comedian is Charles Bradshaw ."
Miss Hall appears in "Dorcas" at the New Funke opera house November 6.
There is one peculiar feature about the Lincoln theatre-going public, or rather there are a good many, and one of the most peculiar is its cold reception of all comediennes, from soubrettes up. A man with a genteel face and a painted abdomen causes deep and lasting joy. The dress circle waxes glad and the gallery waxes loud. But the prettiest, the cleverest, the wickedest soubrette finds dead silence in the house. The spectators unanimously give her ice. It is not from conscientious reasons, either, for if a skirt dancer stands on her head the fact at length dawns upon them that that must be rather naughty, and that therefore they ought to laugh. New York has been raving all summer because its population is not yet educated out of its overweening weakness for pretty actresses who can not act, but we, alas, have never even got educated up to that ordinary point. On the Lincoln stage a homely man takes better than a pretty woman, which is an unusual and unnatural state of affairs. It speaks of a liking for coarser comedy and a certain obtuseness for more delicate fun. Not that it is any better than any other audience, O, no, but it likes to hear coarseness boldly stated rather than delicately insinuated it likes the little element of poesy and beauty which is the only redeeming element about many stage practices left out. Even Anna Boyd , whose magnetism and catching eyes are almost irresistible, failed to arouse the audience when she was here with "A Trip to Chinatown" last season. The other night Mamie Mayo , who is almost Anna Boyd over again on a little lower scale, met with the same chilly reception. It may be bad taste to like the delicately suggestive, but it is still worse taste to like the distorted and grotesque. If people have no taste for champagne they might at least drink a respectable brand of whisky.
"Is there no way in which I can rouse this house? I have exhausted myself on them. It's like running up against a stone wall," groaned Mamie Mayo as she was getting off her "Bowery Girl" make-up.
"Oh yes, if you put on a red wig and stick on a red wax nose over your own pretty one and go on and be as generally disgraceful as possible you'll wake them up."
"Charley's Aunt" is making a great hit in Paris and promises a long run. M. Sarcey says the reason of its popularity is that it is so thoroughly clean and wholesome. That sounds rather paradoxical for Paris, but the wise Frenchman argues that Paris has been without a clean comedy so long, has been so soaked and saturated with Zolaism and realism that it finds this simple, childish little English comedy delightful and restful, just as a man whose system is poisoned by absinthe relishes buttermilk and spring strawberries. He says that Paris had forgotten that there was any fun besides doing evil and that it is rather delighted to find that there is. The little play touches a chord which has slumbered so long in France that the people really enjoy the novelty of it.
The New York World is undoubtedly a newsy paper, and it undoubtedly possesses two of the best dramatic critics in the country, but it also possesses a young woman who needs the worst kind of boycotting. The young person who calls herself Meg Merrilles is, if possible, more obtrusive and more insane than her predecessor, Nelly Bly . Meg Merrilles claims that she will do "all that may become a man," which would be all well enough if she stuck to it, but she don't; she banks upon her sex to sell stuff that would be simply commonplace if she were a man, but which because she is a woman is absurd enough to be read. She fights a round with Corbett and writes six columns about it, visits a gambling den and takes great credit to herself therefor, allows herself to be run over by a motor car, and explodes in double-column headlines and exclamation points the fact that she took a shock from an electric battery. Now, if Miss Mervilles discovered anything new or threw new light on anything old there might be some excuse for her painful parading of her personality, but she is as totally lacking in originality as she is in self-respect. If she could say things that were sharp or write things that were unusual it would be different, but she is limited to the most commonplace phrases that are none the less trite because they are about unusual and unpleasing subjects.
The peculiar persistence of the American newspapers is sometimes wonderful. Every Sunday the papers tell us about Calve's enormous success in Paris and her expected return to America this winter, when Madam Calve is lying at death's door and has been for a month. A letter received yesterday from a singer in Paris says: "How did you ever manage away out there in Lincoln to find out about Calve's serious illness. The New York and Boston papers are still discussing her American tour and informing you that she is in 'excellent form' this winter. Why, she is in no form at all; she is in vapor baths and mustard plasters all the time and it is doubtful that she will ever sing again. THE JOURNAL is the only American paper I have seen besides the Dramatic Mirror that acknowledges the fact of her illness at all. 'Tout Paris' is in perfect hysterics over it, but then 'Tout Paris' is always hysterical over something. You are rash, though, in stating certainly that it is cancer. The nature of her disease is kept close, though the current opinion is cancer."
Whatever else Lincoln is or is not it is certainly a much beclubbed town. It is particularly rich in ladies, literary clubs. All week long the intellectual female may be seen haunting the public libraries, stretching the seams of her best black silk handling massive volumes and writing unreadable notes with her kid gloves on. About once a week the literary ladies meet together and mingle the "glories that were Greece and the grandeur that was Rome" with tea and muffins and Saratoga chips. These club meetings are highly beneficial in many ways, and particularly so in the pleasure and sense of self-satisfaction they give the participants. But the idea of women's clubs is just a little ludicrous. In the first place women have no particular talent for good fellowship. They can't leave their family affairs behind them and can't resist declaiming upon the faults of their last maid or the high marks their daughters get at the high school or university. Now a man who went to club and discussed his family affairs would be promptly and violently sat down upon. Of course, if we may trust the dialogue of the club scene in "Lady Windermere's Fan," men frequently discuss worse things than their family affairs. It is decidedly to the credit of women that their interests are concentrated where their affections are; a woman whose interests are not is distasteful, even to one of her own sex. But this sort of concentration is almost laughable in a club. Women have no talent for good fellowship. Most of them acknowledge it. The only woman of this century who has been noted for that talent is Miss Trilby O'Ferrall , and she had no family affairs, at least none to speak of. It is this same capacity for friendship and companionship that makes some women think her so shocking.
Ladies' literary clubs are particularly funny. Family matters mix so strangely with Kant's philosophy or Ruskin's theories of art. If the good ladies made their assemblies entirely matters of novels and recreation they ought to get a good deal of pleasure and even profit out of them. But they are too desperately learned. They read all the dryest books in the world because they are the most scholarly and endure a great deal of chaff to get a very little wheat. Now, outside of a university or a laboratory, Kant's philosophy is not half so enjoyable or beneficial as a novel by Thackeray or Meredith , or even the mild though undoubtedly great Mr. Howells . This world is not a scholarly world, and it is perhaps better that it should not be. Self-improvement is so often gone at in the wrong way and a little of it so often makes bores of very nice people. After all this life is so short we do pretty well if we get through it comfortably at all, with or without "self-improvement." If we are the happier for Kant's philosophy, by all means let us have it; if we are not it is doubtful if it is worth while stopping for.
Of all the ladies' clubs the Sordello clubs are undoubtedly the funniest. Sordello doesn't seem to mix well with tea and muffins, though perhaps he had too many of them when he was hanging around Verona after his debut and that was what was the matter with him. At any rate he was never a ladies' man and he always appears uncomfortable amid roses and ices and gold-rimmed nose glasses.
The population of a state penitentiary is always rather interesting because it is so often made up of extreme types. There are men who are there because they have no brains, and men who there because they have too much, and men who, even in face and form, are scarcely men at all, and a good many men who are just like many other men, "only they got found out." At present there is one rather interesting young man residing temporarily at Beemerville. He is an actor, Mr. G. W. Murdock , and is playing his present engagement because he has been too much married. It is easy to pick him out when he is with the other convicts assembled in chapel. He is a tall, fine-looking man with dark hair just a little longer than the "unprofessional" citizen ever wears it, and wears the collar of his striped coat turned up behind in the manner ever dear to the heart of the Thespian. The walls of his cell are ornamented with pictures of "stars" and "leading men" and his table strewn with numbers of the Clipper and Dramatic Mirror until it really looks more like a dressing room than a cell. The young man has good taste. Since he has been there he has frescoed the bare ugly walls of that prison, upstairs and down, until it really presents a cheerful aspect. He was very willing to be interviewed and after the regulation actor's bow, which seemed all the more comical in stripes, he sat down.
"Who have I travelled with? Well, the best engagement I ever held was with Robert Downing . I was with his company when he and Eugenia Blair were married in St. Joe. Since then I have traveled with a good many smaller companies. I was with the Lindons in Lincoln at the same time John Griffith was. How is Griffith doing in "Faust?" I haven't seen anyone who knew anything about stage matters for an age."
After a number of professional questions Mr. Murdoch proceeded: "Times are so hard among the professional people that I don't know but I'm in luck to be holding this job down, though it is rather a suburban engagement. I only got sixty days," he said with considerable pride, "and my conscience don't trouble me much. You see my position is somewhat delicate. That first affair began down in New York. I was playing there and she was playing there, both of us in the same company, and—well, you know how theatrical affairs du coeur often go under those circumstances. Well, this affair went, you understand. After I came west I met a little soubrette and became enamored of her and married her and tried to do the right thing by her. The marriage got into the dramatic papers and the other woman saw it and got jealous. She is a Catholic and she got the whole church after me. You know that there is no land wide enough and no sea deep enough to hide a man from the vengeance of the church of Rome," with an eloquent gesture. "The priests came into court and they hunted up that old, obsolete common law marriage that lives only on the New York statute books and they downed me. It's no use to fight with the Catholic church. But the worst they could get me was only sixty days, so I'm not so badly off."
Presently he continued: "Warden Beemer has shown me every kindness and consideration. He is a gentleman in the highest sense of the word and knows how to appreciate and deal with misfortune. The gallows is too good for a man who complains of the treatment in this prison now. I can't say that my sojourn here has been altogether unprofitable nor my time lost. I have seen lots of human nature and that always counts for something, and I have read a good deal that I always wanted to read and never had time to, and I have learned stories enough to make my fortune, if I were a Kipling . The most important thing I have done has been to write a play. The title of it is "Convict 2452," my own number. It is a realistic play of prison life and I think by touring the state with it I ought to make some money. It is almost completed and it has cost me considerable labor. I think the play has its good points, and I know it has its bad ones; they always have those. If you get hard up for stories at any time just call on me; I shall be glad to accommodate you, and there are plenty of them here." With courteous wave of his hand convict 2452 stepped into line and departed for his little grated dressing room in that "ground floor" theatre, where the actors are cultivating their literary talents and their knowledge of human nature.